Starting School…again!

Twenty years ago this year, I was in my final year of high school. This morning I dropped my first-born off for his first day of grade 1. I didn’t expect to cry, but there you go; those mother-emotions catching you completely off-guard! I am still crying as I sit here typing.

I found myself getting very angry (I would have liked to have said uncharacteristically angry, but sadly it seems to be my default emotion when I find myself in a slight panic) with the husband for not remembering (despite direct instructions to do so!) to tell the teacher ahead of time that we do not call our son by his first given name, but rather by his second name. In retrospect this was a stupid thing to do and I probably did not endear myself to the new teacher by the combative manner in which I pointed out to her that we don’t call him by the logic-dictated name. I felt a rising anger with his preschool teacher who seemed to think he was ready for “big school”, because although I believed it until yesterday, I am not all that sure today.

I know we all went through it, and most made it out alive, but how many of us can say that we made it through twelve years of school unscathed? Personally, I looked very much forward to my first day of grade 1, and hated every subsequent day of school. For the next twelve years of my life I hated it. Hated it. I didn’t do badly at school and no-one would have known, but still, while I know a lot of people who long back to their school years, I can unequivocally  state that I do not miss one single day of it. But today wasn’t about me as such, although one will always experience anything through one’s own framework of reference.

My little boy was not excited to go to school. Throughout the December he tried to avoid the topic as much as possible. This morning he was nearly hysterical at the thought of having to go to school. Once seated in his new strange class, among new strange non-friends, he was not happy. He was trying to be so brave while choking back the tears. He was plain scared and for the umpteenth time in his life so far, I felt so very helpless. I, supposed to be his protector and strength, could do nothing to help him today, nothing to comfort him. I feels wrong. All our little babes dressed up the same in their uniforms, preparing them to be “institutionalised” and forced into the misshapen mold of modern society, “for their own good”. Just so they may have a chance of surviving this cruel messed-up world of our making.

I hope that he will find new friends. I hope that he will be happy and enjoy learning. I hope that he is not as scared as I am today, because he is as yet oblivious to exactly what lies ahead…It seems grim, but it is just how I feel today…

 

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I am a quitter…

As we all skip and prance into 2017, hoping and praying it will be bigger and better than last year, I decided to start my year by quitting. Not the New Year’s resolution-type of quitting such as quitting smoking, or quitting sugar…I decided to take it up a notch and went ahead and quit my job. A brave thing by some opinions and considering I have no other source of income lined up, a particularly stupid one if you ask my husband. (And possibly my financial adviser!)

The opinions of others don’t matter though. I was unhappy and had been for a long while, so instead of carrying on whining about it, I chose to instead do something to change it. The changes I had first tried to implement to improve matters did not pan out, so I chose to walk away. Or leap…if you could see the mental image I have in head of myself free-falling down a cliff as I take my leap of faith!

So far, I have to immediate plans for the future. Half-day jobs are scarce and my son starts school this year, so it would be nice if I could pick him up from school in the afternoons instead of sending him to aftercare. It would also be a nice change to not have to leave my kids in the care of other people for up to eleven hours a day. It is hard to be a working mom – you drop the kids off before work, only to pick them up at the end of the day just as the evening routine starts; making supper, getting everyone to take their baths and then trying to persuade them to go to sleep, only to start the next morning fighting all over again to get them to wake up to leave in time.15799994_1577870905570384_6423302594904325018_o

So, for now, I am calmly waiting for the universe or God to show me where to head next. My CV is varied and interesting, but I have never done the same thing for awfully long. The only things I really want to do are reading about working with horses, working with horses and writing about working with horses! But I am open to suggestions. It will be an adventure!

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Face it, it’s not your horse…

It’s YOU!

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while as it may make me somewhat unpopular. But what the hell, here goes!

I am, as is everyone else in the horsey world, surrounded by riders, handlers and their horse’s problems. “My horse does this, should I get such and such a bit / saddle/ gadget (insert here whatever is the flavour du jour)?” “How can I get my horse to do so-and-so?” “How can I stop my horse from doing such-and-such?” “Why does my horse…” I can’t seem to make my horse…” “My horse“…seems to always be at fault. As riders and equestrians we will tell anyone and everyone who is willing to listen, that it is about the partnership we have with our horses; it’s all about the relationship. So doesn’t it seem somewhat unfair that one partner should take all the blame for when things are not going as planned?

your-horse

Fair enough. If your saddle or your bridle or your bit doesn’t actually fit you horse and cause it discomfort, by all means, change it. Make sure teeth, feet, muscles and bones are healthy. And then, I am sorry to say. Learn to ride and learn to train your horse! Apart from physical discomfort, problems and issues arise through human error.

When something isn’t going to plan, how many of us grab first, the nearest stronger bit, or fancy gadget to coerce the horse into doing what we want it to. We do not stop to consider what we as riders or handlers are doing to have caused the problem in the first place. It may not be something you yourself did…it may be something someone else did to or around your horse that is making it behave in a certain manner. Horses are clever. We know this! So much of their behaviour is learnt behaviour. And horses learn new behaviours quickly.

So when your horse is not doing what you want, stop to consider WHY. When the brakes don’t work as they should, don’t automatically reach for the stronger bit. Find out why your your horse is not responding to the “stop” aid. When your horse’s head is in the air, for the sake of all that is horsey, don’t grab whatever fancy new gadget you can find in the tack shop. Just stop and think. WHY is the horse not putting its head where it should be? Fix THAT and you fix your problem. When your horse is shaking its head – have you tried keeping your hands quiet? When your horse is unbalanced on one rein, have you had your seat checked to see that you are straight? I could go on and on…but you get my drift. I may sound like some tyrannical purist when it comes to training and schooling, but honestly, when the root of the problem has not been fixed, you are just slapping a band-aid onto the bleeding gash and hoping no-one would notice. When are you crossing the line between an equal partnership to coercion?

Your horse, although a sentient and intelligent being, I grant you, really, and I mean REALLY doesn’t care about reaching the next level of competition, or bringing home the prizes and the glory. Of course he is happy when you are happy, he lives to be in harmony with you and that is probably the only reason horses tolerate the totally unnatural things we ask them to do in the first place. That little fact, so often overseen by people – that they are by nature herd animals and it is in their utmost best interest to stay within the herd and for everyone to be happy and harmonious. Horses adapt their behaviour to their surroundings and their surroundings include us. We shape (however unknowingly) how they behave with every single interaction we have with them. Every single time you work with your horse, whether it is grooming session, or simply a visit to the field to feed it carrots they learn something. Every. Single. Time. And really, it is up to you whether what they are learning is good or bad.

I find it shocking and sad how many people work with horses every day, ride and handle horses for years, without ever really thinking about how and why they do things. They have been taught to do things in a certain way and they continue to do it in that way because of their distorted view of the horse itself. There is of course those on the other side of the coin too: those that over- “huminify” (I think I may have just made that word up, but the correct term is anthropomophy) their horses and expect them to think and react as people. Yes, they are beings in their own right, but they are not people. That is my whole point. They are horses. They think like horses and they behave like horses.

Because it is we who are intruding in their lives, asking them to do more than walk around and find food, it is also up to us to make sure we understand their behaviour; the reasons why they may act in a certain manner, and then to act accordingly. With the wealth of knowlege available to our modern society, there is no excuse to plead ignorance!

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Wiser with age

pony-for-christmasPeople make such a fuss of being “old”. Movies and the mostly fake world they portray have made society in general want to look young, beautiful and thin- if you are a woman, that is. I have never been able to understand why you are not supposed to ask a lady her age. But then I guess I have never been much of a “lady” either!

There is something to be said for growing older. I don’t mean the wise old sage that is sated with wisdom. I am talking about where you are just old enough to have learnt some stuff, but young enough to be able to apply them next time around.

Although I will sometimes wistfully think of my pre-baby body, or generally just a body that healed quicker after it tumbled off a horse and made contact with the ground, I am not overly dissatisfied with what I have. I have made peace with the extra rolls, and bits of skin that were never there before and creases in skin that can no longer be smoothed away. I have made peace with the occasional aches and pains  – I mean, by stone-age standards, I would be at the end of my life right now!

I enjoy meeting new people and finding out whether they have their own opinions, or whether they have just plagiarised it from somewhere on the internet without having given it too much thought. It makes me sad that there are people much older than me, who are simply trying to put up a facade for the world and still don’t know who they truly are. But once in a while, one happens upon a youngster who seems to have it all sussed already. And I have to say, I am just a little jealous of them! As a generally insecure person, it would have been nice to know sooner that others’ opinions are just that. Opinions. And more often than not, people are not aware enough to have their own opinions anyway and will simply repeat whatever they heard someone else express. My many years of sitting on the sidelines observing, are starting to pay off.

Some things have changed, some things will never change. I still have this affliction called “horse-madness“. This inexplicable drive or draw towards anything and everything equine.  And sadly, there is no known cure….Right now, I am still very much horseless. But I am desperate not to be!

You know at some stage in your teenage years, you would “fall in love” with anything because you were so desperate to have someone who cared “just for you”. This is where I am at right now – only, it’s not about a boy, it’s about a horse. I do not currently have my own horse. That is not to say I am not riding. I am very much still riding. Which is part of the problem really. I have learned of the term of “heart horse”. It is hard to describe, but it is basically a horse that you connect with on a “soul level”, if you are inclined to believe this sort of thing. And I have come across one of these – at least I think I have. But right now, I am so desperate for that connection (that really inexplicable connection that we horsey people just can’t explain to our non-horsey friends and family) that I am liable to make utterly irresponsible decisions based on feelings that may or may not be imaginary.

I have ridden many a horse in my life, and there is always that one ride, just as you are about to give up, that reminds you why you work so hard. Everything just works! There is no arguing, no tenseness; things just fall into place and instead of being horse and rider, your are the centaur! Two minds and two bodies work in complete sync and everything you have been trying to achieve for weeks, months, or even years, just work! But now, you see, there is this horse. That I love. We have a connection on a different level. Every ride is like becoming one, thinking as one, working as one…centaur! Either that, or I have just become so used to riding really difficult horses that I just don’t know what riding a schooled horse should feel like? But the great thing is that I am self-aware enough to have figured this out all on my little own. (Let me just stop to pat myself on the back there!)

But I like the fact that in general, I know who I am. I have introspected enough over the years, after all. I mostly know what I want, and am aware enough to know that what I want is not necessarily what I need. This doesn’t stop me from trying to have my cake and eat it! But I enjoy the awareness I have of my own thoughts, my body and how the world mostly works. Sometimes I still find it excruciating that there are some “why’s” that I cannot figure out. No matter how hard I try, the rhyme and reason of things still elude me. But I do like that I have experienced enough to know, that even when things don’t make sense, they will ultimately end, and it won’t matter why they happened or didn’t happen.

So, for now, I shall sit back, wait and see whether this is one more soul that I will forever love quietly, or whether it is just a passing sense of desperation…

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Parental Inadequacies

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If there is one thing no-one ever deems to tell you when you talk about having children, or announcing pregnancies or even right after you bring your little bundle of joy home, it is how inadequate that tiny being can make you feel. If you are like me, already burdened with your own mental mind field of insecurities (If not, well, bully for you!), trust me, that little person will amplify those feelings! From the moment that little person enters your life, nothing, and I mean nothing you do or say is good enough!

The first issues of course start with how you choose to give birth and feed said little person. But that has been extensively dealt with elsewhere in this blog. (Being a parent is hard!)

Once they become older, with minds of their own, it starts with little things, like: “why on earth, mother would you choose to cut my sandwiches into triangles today when I feel like having them in squares?” (Never mind the fact that you didn’t even know they could be cut into squares until you visited your friend’s house last weekend.) “How could you not mind-read that from that point onward I too, only eat sandwiches that have been cut into squares.” And after a long day, having slaved away to cook dinner, suddenly, little petal has decided that she hates whatever it is you made and she no longer eats it, inadvertently saying “Your cooking, mommy, is just not good enough for me to eat”. And why, put anything nice (like a slice of cold meat) in the lunchbox sarmies only to have it returned (with one bite taken out, so that big brother, despite the fact that he would eat it any other way, now pulls his nose up at said sandwich  because his sister infected it with her cooties.) with a little comment like: “I only want butter on my bread and nothing else!”

Then there are the medium-sized things. Like when other parents (or even non-parents!) presume to tell you how you should raise your child and what you are doing wrong. Like the day I left my child to finish her tantrum in the middle of Woolies. I walked away and was watching her from a safe distance (and by safe I mean far enough so no-one would know the little demon belonged to me!) until she had finished. As I approached her again, en elderly couple could be heard tisk-tisking as they walked by. Definitely not how they would have handled that one, I guess?

It is as if the entire universe starts castigating you for everything you are doing wrong. The other day, a truck drove by my on the highway with a sign that read: “Don’t drive tired. Stop to rest“. I took it as a major accusation, seeing as how I have been tired since the year 2000! To be fair, not all of that can be linked to children. In those years, I would give up sleep quite voluntarily in order to have fun with varsity friends. Later, it was so I could work on building that “career” we all think we ought to have. (Fat lot of good that did me, by the way!) I wonder if there is a way one could “bank” and then go back to retrieve all the lost sleep one gave up out of one’s own volition…? But I digress! Since the kids came, I cannot remember the last time I woke up actually feeling rested.

Then there are the big things. The major things. The things that leave you powerless and speechless and angry and sad. Those things that you can do absolutely nothing about – the epitome of inadequacy!  Like when your son comes home and tells you that that friend he took all year to make, told him at break-time: “I don’t want to be your friend anymore”. (I thought it was a girl-thing, that, but apparently I was sadly mistaken!) It breaks your mommy-heart and you want to tell your child it will be OK. But you are not sure it will. And there is not one single thing you can do about the situation except wait and see how it plays out, hoping and praying all the while that there will be a positive outcome.

It is heart-breaking and gut-wrenching and leaves you feeling totally and utterly helpless. And this is where one feels most the inadequate of all…

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The true cost of horses – for our unhorsey friends and family

14485083_312473355780791_369161526253471038_nI have yet to come across a hobby more expensive than that of riding horses. You speak to people who do different things and they all like to tell you exactly how expensive their gear is, but it never quite compares to that of keeping a horse. In fact, some people’s efforts to out-cost a horse a quite laughable and amusing to say the least!

Sure, your mountain bike cost a fortune and it has to be serviced. But does it eat? Sure, your race car drinks fuel, and needs to be fixed quite often, but when it is in the shop to get fixed, do you need to check on it twice a day to make sure it’s not trying to die?

The problem with horse riding is that it is not “just” a hobby, it is a lifestyle. I can’t say it better than Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Riding a horse is not a gentle hobby, to be picked up and laid down like a game of solitaire. It is a grand passion. It seizes a person whole and once it has done so, he/she will have to accept that his life will be radically changed.”

And the thing is, it doesn’t only change and affect the horsey person’s life, but very much also those of their nearest and dearest. I jokingly said to someone that there should probably be a support group for the husbands of horsey women. But it really doesn’t stop there, because it affects our parents (when they are unhorsey) our friends and friendships and very much our children!

You see, riding a horse is so much more than just rocking up at the stables, having a quick ride and then leaving. It takes commitment – more than you ever imagined.  And it costs money. Sooo much money! Because here’s the thing: it doesn’t really matter whether you are winning medals at the Olypmics or someone who just likes to go on gentle hacks, the level of commitment and the costs are just about the same. We owe it to our horses.

We are sitting on their backs and expecting of them to be well-balanced, fit athletes and it is up to us to train them to get there. This takes time and effort. But they need to be treated as the athletes we expect them to be. They need to have saddles that fit their backs (which change every few months as their muscles build!) irrespective of which riding discipline you choose to follow. Riding a horse is inherently unnatural for them and therefore, they need to have body work (as in physiotherapy and chiropractic care and body stress release).

Even if you are doing the bare minimum for your horse, it still needs good quality food and it has special needs that have to be taken care of. We have taken horses out of the wild where they were perfectly happy and able to take care of themselves and housed them in stables and paddocks. So now they need to have their hooves trimmed, they need to have their teeth floated (yep, they need to see a special horse-dentist every six months!), and they will get sick or hurt themselves. They are experts at that, so prepare yourself, because when they do, they do it will probably cost you more money than the horse itself cost in the first place!

So yes, our horses cost us. They cost money, but they also cost time. Time that could have been spent with other people or doing other things. They cost us time with family and friends and we are aware that you are “paying”, dear loved ones.

But, we love our horses. We really do. If you are not one of the horse-mad, you can’t even begin to understand the depth of relationship one can have with an animal. They are big, they are unpredictable and we trust them with our lives at every interaction. We need to spend time with our horses. A lot of it. Even if we just sit in the paddock and stare at them (don’t worry if you don’t understand). And because our unhorsey families rarely understand our passion (read “addiction”), we spend extra hours at the yard comparing notes with the ones who do. It is a passion. It is not a phase and we are not going to outgrow it. Ever.

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We are not teaching our kids the right things

While we are all basking in the Olympic afterglow, where Britain won both individual jumping and dressage in spectacular style, and wondering whether Parzival really was bitten by something and if maybe he was withdrawn for more sinister reasons, our attention has been much focused on the welfare and potential of abuse at these high levels of competition. The entire future of Equestrian Disciplines may well be threatened as Olympic events as we equestrians once again, have to explain to non-riders that: No, we do in fact not just “sit there” while the horses do all the work. We are, as much of a team, if not more than, a pair of figure skaters would be. Never mind the fact that we are communicating with an animal ten times our size in a language native to neither of us! But never mind all of that…

I attended a little training show today. You know, the kind where your fellow riders are genuinely happy (and perhaps a bit surprised) that you managed to get around the course without having lost your way or even get bucked off. The kind where teenage boyfriends are dragged along because we expect that kind of dedication from a man if he intends to date us! (It’s only much, much later that we realise that it may be wiser to leave better halves at home and let the groom do the groom’s job. It is simply better for the horse, our shattered nerves, as well as the relationship!) The kind of show where everyone is an expert, because either they “grew up with horses” -meaning they lived on a farm and there happened to be horses on it, or they dabbled in riding themselves 20 years ago, had such blast their children simply have to have the opportunity to ride too!

This is the kind of competition where showing up with a big fat (clearly expensive)horse kitted out in fancy gear, everyone assumes (for reasons that still baffle me) that you actually know what you are doing, because you obviously have money for the big, fat, expensive horse. Never mind that in the arena said fat horse can’t do two strides in a straight line and is clearly paying attention to everything but his rider, oated up to the eyeballs and bursting from his own skin.

The warm-up arena is not only occupied by, but taken over by a rider who is clearly not competing, but allowed to ride there as this is her home turf. She saws away at her horse’s mouth when his nose is already behind the vertical, and after having trotted around for twenty minutes forced into that unnatural frame, he objects to his burning muscles by giving a buck and is rewarded for his effort by being forced around for another twenty minutes. When his being uptight upsets a child’s pony (who was clearly ill-prepared for the competition in the first place) and she is bucked off, instead of asking the big non-competing rider to go away, or at least stop torturing her poor horse, the child’s pony is mounted by the instructor to “sort it out”.  These are ponies that are ridden by everyone and anyone. They are expected to behave despite the fact that little bodies are bouncing on their backs like wildly wobbling sacks of potatoes, thumping them in the ribs and at the same time jerking them in the mouth because they have not learnt to keep their own balance yet. They are beaten into submission and when they give up on life and shut down, they are beaten some more and kicked mercilessly in the ribs for being “lazy”!

At this level of riding, no-one expects much. We are simply trying to give everyone a chance to enter the ring, conquer the show nerves and show the world what they have learnt. It seems innocent enough, but what exactly is it they are learning? It’s not about the horse. The focus is on the kid. And this is where, in my opinion, things go wrong from the get-go! When a pony bucks a child off in the warm-up ring, they are given the chance to rather get on another pony that is “quieter” so they can at least get their minute in the ring. When this same child, in four or five years time, throws a tantrum and blames the faults in the competition on the horse, we wonder where on earth they get that from? But what have we taught them?

We have taught them nothing about the building of trust and a relationship between horse and rider. We have taught them nothing about why horses behave the way they do at a show, when you as a rider is tense and nervous. We have taught them nothing about horsemanship!

In the story of Black Beauty, John Manly gives Little Joe Green’s father an irate speech when he is relieved that Joe’s causing Beauty to get sick was “only ignorance”. Ignorance is not an excuse. We should know better and we should teach our kids better! You are not allowed to drive a car unless you have proven that you can do so without harming others. Why then, are you allowed to own and care for an animal without having been adequately equipped to deal with said animal? Horses are not machines. They are real live creatures with their own set of feelings and opinions. UNless you are capable of, and willing to respect another person (even if that person is an animal) as a separate being, you have no business being on a team with them.

Yes, but we all have to start somewhere, we all have to learn somehow, I hear you say. And it’s true. We do all have to start somewhere and learn somehow, but I think there is a lot more preparation that needs to go into a child before it’s let loose with a pony! The welfare of our horses ought to be taken into account at all levels of competition. We cannot expect our children to grow up respecting their horses as team mates if we do not teach them that their ponies have feelings too and are not just there to do as they are told…

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